At the end of the fall 2014 term, we distributed a survey to instructors to see what they thought about teaching a Wikipedia assignment. We wanted to share some of those responses, and let instructors speak for themselves about the successes and challenges they encountered.
A key note kept ringing throughout the survey’s free responses, one that explained why we think editing with Wikipedia is so compelling for students and instructors. Writing for an audience improved student work, instructors said. Student editors know they are making a real contribution to the world, and that drives a sense of responsibility for their writing.
Results showed that 92% of instructors would consider teaching with Wikipedia again, including 85% who committed to teaching again. And 88% said they were satisfied with our level of communication and feedback.
We think that’s pretty good.
We asked instructors why they like teaching with Wikipedia. Here’s what they said, in their own words (edited for clarity):
- “It is real work. The things the students do make a difference. The world is a better place for their work. No smart student should do work that ends up in a file.”
- “Two common reasons: Students felt as if their work mattered. Students believed they were making a contribution.”
- “I also liked the way it forces them to interact and to think about how others are reviewing and seeing their work.”
- “I really enjoyed reading their end of term reflections, getting a good idea of how proud they were of their achievements and how far they came (from mostly being afraid of doing the assignment, to being confident in their ability to edit).”
- “I think writing for Wikipedia is an excellent central part of any class where the students are good and committed. I expect they remember, they learn the ins and outs of the main reference they will use for the rest of their lives. They understand copyright; they understand plagiarism; they understand references in ways they could never learn any other way. They also learn to write, get the power of parallel structure, and learn to work in teams.”
We also asked about some of their success stories teaching Wikipedia assignments.
- “It is wonderful to see how engaged the students are when people outside the class discover their work. The best are the positive stories, but it is also very interesting to watch them defend their work when someone challenges it.”
- “Students had an ‘ah ha!’ moment when they learned how easily they could add information to Wikipedia and realized that it was something that they had the authority and autonomy to contribute to.”
- “Several students have remarked that they were proud to show their Wikipedia articles to their parents. Also, since I keep the articles on my watch list, I’ve seen that some students continue to develop their articles after the semester is over. Doubt this happens with many term papers. It has been interesting to see what happens when students from different institutions are working on the same article. Usually they communicate, cooperate.”
Finally, some professors shared notes from course evaluations:
- “Initially, I was reluctant toward the assignment, but after completing it, it gave me a good sense of how to use the scholarly database at [our college library] as well as how to partake in Wikipedia editing. I enjoyed it and actually do enjoy telling my friends I am an actual, contributing Wikipedian. Great assignment!”
- “[This] was the first assignment that made me feel like I did it with an actual purpose.”
Of course, we also heard about challenges instructors faced in launching these assignments. In our next post, we’ll look at some of those problems, and identify some solutions.